Review: Dark Phoenix

Score: C+

Director: Simon Kinberg

Cast: Sophie Turner, Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender

Running Time: 113 Minutes

Rated: PG-13

Over the last 20 years, the X-Men franchise has seen a lot of ups and downs. The first film was a groundbreaking step forward for comic book movies, but during the rise of the MCU and Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, it's faded, becoming just another franchise. It's also tainted by being closely associated with Bryan Singer, who directed four of the film's seven main entries. (Though, he did just direct a Best Picture nominee that took in nearly a billion dollars worldwide, so maybe that's not such an issue.) But now that Disney has acquired Fox, this is the last iteration of these X-Men we'll ever see, as a reboot (and possible crossover with the Avengers) is imminent.

Whether the cast and crew knew that during filming is unclear, but whether this was intended to be the "final battle" (as it's been billed in advertisements) or not doesn't change the fact that this is just a shrug of a movie. It's certainly not the disaster that some feared, but there's nothing memorable or especially great about it either. Longtime producer Simon Kinberg makes his directorial debut, and he shows absolutely no zip behind the camera or on the page.

A rescue mission to save astronauts goes awry, leaving Jean (Sophie Turner) to absorb the energy of a solar flare. She survives, but it kicks off an evolution in her mutant powers, beyond what she can control. It moves in the exact way you'd imagine, even if you hadn't read the comics, seen the excellent arc on the animated series, or suffered through The Last Stand. But there are glimpses of other fascinating plot threads – a reservation for mutants led by Magneto (Michael Fassbender), the once-cozy relationship Charles had with the president souring, news reports of mutants being rounded up in internment camps – but they're all left unexplored, in favor of telling this story in the most perfunctory way possible. It's better than the truncated version we got in The Last Stand, but not by much.

It's a shame because the cast is committing to every bit of it. Even Jennifer Lawrence, who looked visibly bored during Apocalypse, is engaged. But I am baffled by Jessica Chastain here, and even more so by the choice of villains. Even if the D'Bari (a shape-shifting alien race) are part of the original Dark Phoenix Saga from the comics, they're introduced so poorly that they become just another generic group of antagonists. Their motivations aren't clearly defined, and by virtue of literally being an alien race learning English, their monotone speaking style makes them boring instead of ominous.

Dark Phoenix was a chance to do justice to one of the most famous comic book arcs of all time, and close out this line-up of the X-Men. On both accounts, it's a failure. It's a disappointment, but not a dumpster fire.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.